Reflecting on MPAC

I am excited and humbled to be taking over as MPAC’s president. The 2018 meeting in Chicago was another reminder of how special MPAC is. I am lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with our talented board members, conference hosts, and attendees to keep building on MPAC’s sturdy foundation. Last night I took some time to reflect on what I want MPAC to mean. Broadly, I want it to be place where we address the pathologies of our field. What do I mean by pathologies? Well, if you have not read Alisdair Roberts’ recent Medium piece you should. While it is easy (and even satisfying at times) to complain about these pathologies, it is harder to address them. A first step is articulating some core propositions to guide us.

We will be inclusive and diverse

PA is a sprawling field, yet it is easy to get stuck in narrow lanes of methods, topics, and thinking. A regional conference can be a place where we embrace new methodological approaches, expand the boundaries of our field, and elevate new voices that are underrepresented in current hierarchies. My goal this summer is to build an advisory board that reflects the diversity of the field. And of course MPAC will continue to be a place where bias and harassment has no place.

We will be constructive

Attendees should leave MPAC with something real. I do not mean water bottles. I mean an improved research paper, a broader scholarly network, a new teaching resource, or new friends. There are many academic conferences PA scholars and students can attend. Coming to MPAC is a choice, and I want to ensure a culture that creates tangible value for attendees.

We will be regionally focused

This past year I had my travel funding cut to $400 annually. I cannot cover the cost of ASPA’s registration fee, much less travel and a hotel room. My situation is not unique, which places a huge premium on a PA conference where travel is easy and fees are reasonable. Having Midwest PA scholars disengage from the broader research community because of the financial struggles of universities is simply not acceptable. There is so much good work going on it so many places that deserves a venue. MPAC can be that venue. 

We will be solution focused

A formative moment for me as a PA scholar was hearing a prominent scholar declare that Public Administration is not what ails government, politics is. He argued that only a change in our politics will improve our government. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. The pursuit of research with practical relevance to the problems facing government agencies and nonprofit organizations can improve performance, efficiency, and citizen acceptance. Theory building and macro-level studies on the big issues in PA can similarly help us understand how and why solutions to societal problems can be effective. My predecessor described MPAC as punk rock, meaning we strive to find a way rather than dwell on barriers. I agree. 

We will be egalitarian 

I was able to work on the program this year and made the decision to not include titles next to presenter names. I doubt anyone noticed, but I hope it demonstrates a commitment to focusing on the quality of the work rather than one’s title. Whether you are a student, a practitioner, or a full professor, MPAC will be a space where you can expect open-minded engagement and constructive dialogue.

If you have thoughts, disagree with anything, want to be involved, or simply have ideas on how to improve MPAC, please please please please reach out to me: fordm@uwosh.edu, @fordm10.   In five years so many passionate people created something special. I vow to keep the train moving forward.

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